Despite the perception that department stores are a recent phenomenon in West Africa, modern indoor retail spaces have existed in its major cities since the mid-twentieth century. This article uses the history of Kingsway Department Store in Accra as a lens to understand emerging political, economic and social tensions in post-colonial Ghana. Drawing on United Africa Company (UAC) records, staff reports and inspection findings, as well as local newspapers, advertising and oral interviews, I demonstrate how legacies of colonial capitalism, struggles for political independence and negotiations over what constituted the ‘modern’ fuelled both local and foreign support of the project. For the UAC, investment was an opportunity to legitimize its activities in a newly independent Ghana and a means to shed its image as a colonial merchant firm. While local authorities were divided on whether large-scale retail developments should be part of an expanding post-colonial city, Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah thought the store might provide a key component in constructing his vision of a new modern nation. However, the presence of white-collar working women, young managers supervising older employees, and the mixing of white expatriate and African shoppers exacerbated social conflicts – challenging local and colonial notions of authority based on race, gender and age.